I am delighted that Jewish Book Month will bring me back to Winnipeg for a special evening of stories, music and nostalgia. Join me and the fabulously talented singer, Jane Enkin, on Nov. 22nd at the Rady Centre for the 3rd annual Tarbut Festival of Jewish Culture.
For me it will be a chance to celebrate the early history of the immigrants in Winnipeg who first settled in what was to become Winnipeg’s famous North End with music, stories, pictures of the early days, and of course, a reading from Ravenscraig.
Click here for more information on programming and tickets. See you on November 22nd!
Fiddler in the Golden Land
with Sandi Krawchenko Altner, author of Ravenscraig
Join as at Tarbut on Nov. 22nd for a lively evening of musical entertainment and nostalgic memories of the early days in Winnipeg’s North End.
Sandi Krawchenko Altner will present a reading from Ravenscraig, her award-winning historical novel about Winnipeg, and lead a discussion about the dreamers and strivers who first settled the North End.
Sandi will share stories she learned from her many years of research on Winnipeg’s boomtown years a century ago, when it was among the fastest growing cities on the continent. The research inspired the fictional Zigman family of Ravenscraig, Russian Jewish immigrants who struggled to put down roots in Canada. Sandi will also describe the living conditions suffered by the North End’s mix of Jews, Ukrainians and other “foreign born” residents, and the passion that developed in “the foreign quarter” that ultimately led to Winnipeg’s North End becoming known as one of Canada’s greatest neighbourhoods for “rags to riches” success stories.
It is Tarbut’s pleasure to invite all who have a connection to, or affection for Winnipeg’s North End to join us for this special evening of nostalgia and celebration.
Ravenscraig, by Sandi Krawchenko Altner, Winner of the 2012 Carol Shields Book Award
Romance, scandal, and tragedy grip the lives of two families and threaten to destroy them both in Ravenscraig, by Sandi Krawchenko Altner. Winner of the 2012 Carol Shields Book Award, Ravenscraig, pitches rich against poor in the height of the immigration boom a century ago.
Rupert Willows buries his cruel past and schemes his way to wealth and power when he buys his opulent home, Ravenscraig Hall. Zev Zigman, a devout Jew, mounts a desperate struggle to bring his family out of czarist Russia. At the center is the feisty Maisie, who hides her Jewish roots to enter the world of “The English” as a well paid maid at Ravenscraig. Love, anger and determination fuel the treacherous journey ahead.
Armstrong’s Point is among my favourite neighbourhoods in Winnipeg and was the ideal choice for the location of the fictional home Ravenscraig Hall in my novel Ravenscraig.
Tucked into a bend in the Assiniboine River, the lush landscape and expansive lawns of “The Gates” as it is often called, have continued to inspire new generations of homeowners for more than a century. There is no other place quite like this, and it fascinates me.
You will get a sense of the luxurious homes that were built in Armstrong’s Point at the turn of the 20th century if you read the opening chapter of Ravenscraig, which you will find here on line.
To this day, Armstrong’s Point remains a distinctly beautiful and peaceful residential area, hidden away from the busy streets of downtown, yet a short walk to the city centre, public transportation, fine restaurants, bakeries, walking paths, as well as churches and a synagogue.
No, you will not find a real Ravenscraig Hall, there, but I can tell you exactly where it would have been located had it existed.
I wanted to share this short video to show what Armstrong’s Point looks like today. It was produced by Compass Digital Media of Winnipeg and is narrated by Bill Richardson. I hope it will help you understand why the residents association of Armstrong’s Point remains so fiercely protective of their historic neighbourhood.
The following notes were posted by Compass Digital Media to accompany the youtube video.
Historic Armstrong’s Point received its name in the mid-1800s, when the land was first granted by the Hudson’s Bay Company to Captain Joseph Hill.
When Captain Hill returned to England five years later, he left his boatman James Armstrong in charge and the area gradually came to be known as Armstrong’s Point. In the early 1880s when Hill heard that land values were escalating in the Canadian west, he returned to Winnipeg, reestablished his title to his property, and sold it to a syndicate headed by J. McDonald and E. Rothwell.
The Armstrong’s Point Association was formed 54 years ago to “preserve the residential nature” of one of Winnipeg’s most cherished neighbourhoods. Over the years, residents have come and gone, but still somehow, this peaceful, naturally beautiful setting remains, cherished by all who live here and visit here.
Of the 123 homes on the Point, 75 are on the city’s Inventory of Historically Noteworthy Buildings. The ornamental Tyndallstone gates were erected in 1902 and were designated by the City as historically significant in 1993.
The Cornish Library, a Carnegie library built in 1915, was named after Winnipeg*s first mayor, Francis Cornish. Ralph Connor House, home to the University Women*s Club at 54 West Gate, has been designated municipally and provincially and was recently named a National Historic Site. Beechmount at 134 West Gate is on the Canadian Registry of Historic Places.
Ravenscraig, The Blog
This blog celebrates the history of Winnipeg, my hometown, and occasionally allows me to indulge in some wider observations of the world that catch my interest.
Here you will find stories about Winnipeg at the turn of the 20th century when the Manitoba capital declared her glory as one of the fastest growing cities in North America. The research behind the stories you will find on this site was done over many years and became the basis for the storyline for my novel, Ravenscraig. I welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions. Email me at: email@example.com
The early years in Manitoba were very exciting, with Winnipeg recognized as the gateway city for people and goods traveling west to the new frontier. From these years of rapid growth in Winnipeg, 1874-1914, there developed a large group of millionaires and the crop of mansions they built to impress each other.
Historian, Dr. Alan Artibise, referred to these captains of industry as “the commercial elite” and truly Winnipeg was seen by those “down east” in Ontario, as the place to be for those seeking to make or increase their fortunes at the dawn of the 20th century.
But not everyone had a shot at the big money in Winnipeg.
On the other side of the tracks, newly arrived immigrants struggled to overcome the horrors of poverty, disease and anti-foreigner sentiments as they fought to put down roots in the New Country. It is from this determination of the newcomers to survive and prosper that the famed Winnipeg North End came to be.
To help understand the rich mosaic in this colourful history, I’ve included a selection of films, featuring such topics as Jews in Winnipeg, life in a Ted Baryluk’s store in the North End, and a terrific NFB film about a man whose job was to keep the tracks clean for the Winnipeg street cars.
You will also find that I indulge in some nostalgic remembrances of my childhood on Gallagher Avenue and at Principal Sparling School, and share stories about my family history. I am very proud to have descended from the first group of Ukrainian settlers in Manitoba. The first 27 families arrived in the summer of 1896 and settled in the southeastern corner of the province. My family farmed near Vita.
Titanic, I must say, is my true love in research topics so you will find a number of postings about Winnipeg’s Titanic connection, and Titanic in general. In all there were more than thirty passengers on the ship who were on their way to Winnipeg to return home, stay for a visit, or like survivor Eva Hart’s family, to settle in Manitoba as immigrants.
I was a child when I first learned about the Titanic. My dad took us for a drive to point out Mark Fortune’s house on Wellington Crescent and told us about the six people from the Fortune family who were on their way home to Winnipeg when the great ship struck an iceberg and sank. I was horrified, and instantly hooked.
Years later, the Fortune family and Winnipeg’s connection to the Titanic came to occupy a significant part of my imagination, and the Fortunes found their way into my novel, Ravenscraig, which has recently been published in Canada by Heartland Associates.
Thanks for visiting.
About the name Ravenscraig:
Ravenscraig, the blog, (and title of my novel) is taken from the name of a fictitious home, Ravenscraig Hall, in Winnipeg’s Armstrong’s Point and owned by Rupert Willows, the lead character in the book.
About the novel:
Ravenscraig is about two families: the Willows—wealthy, powerful and anti-Semitic, and the Zigmans—newly arrived Jews, struggling to put down roots in Winnipeg’s North End.
Click on the image below to see the book trailer for Ravenscraig.
I am very excited to announce that I will be participating in the Jewish Book Council Network. What a fantastic organization. The Network program supports authors who write books that are of appeal to a Jewish audience.
From the JBC website: For authors, this is an opportunity to go on an all-expenses-paid book tour around North America. For program directors, it is the source of a wide selection of interesting authors who will speak in your community without an honorarium.
In June they will bring together a couple of hundred people from all over Canada and the US who are looking to book authors for events and speaking engagements. Authors, like me, will have a two minute opportunity to make an impression that will hopefully lead to invitations to speak. It has been described by one participant as a combination of the Gong Show and Speed Dating. Can’t wait. Here’s a little video about the event.
More to come. I will update you on all of the details of my trip. I am set to present on June 3rd. It happens that my daughter, Katiana Krawchenko, will also be in New York, so I am looking forward to memories that will be made. Katiana is a journalism senior at the University of Florida and has been granted a ten week internship at CBS News in New York. How proud are the parents?
Please join me on April 10th for the Montreal book launch of Ravenscraig.
Librairie Paragraphe Bookstore
2220 McGill College Avenue
6:00 – 7:30 p.m.
April 10, 2012
How exciting it is for me, a Titanic fanatic, that this coincides with the 100th anniversary of the Titanic setting sail on her maiden voyage.
About the book:
Ravenscraig is historical fiction that is of particular appeal to readers interested in Jewish migration to North America, The Titanic, and anyone with an affection for Winnipeg’s history in its boom town years, a century ago.
Nothing is more important to Rupert J. Willows than the image he has built to hide the deep secret of his true identity. A master manipulator, the ruthless and charismatic Rupert schemes his way into the upper class when he purchases the opulent mansion, Ravenscraig Hall. It is the turn of the 20th century in one of the fastest growing cities in North America; a brawling, raucous, frontier boomtown with a taste for fine theatre and loose women. True power is within Rupert’s grasp as long as his secret stays buried.
Malka Zigman is a survivor. Orphaned in London, she has just joined her Uncle Zev and his hardworking Jewish family in Canada. Recent immigrants who escaped from poverty and violence in czarist Russia, the Zigmans struggle to put down roots in the New World. With family resources stretched thin, Malka takes a risk. Everything is about to change as she reinvents herself as Maisie Rosedale and crosses over to the exclusive world of “the English” as the new maid at Ravenscraig.
Tragedies, and triumphs grip the lives of these two families as their futures inextricably twine together to culminate on the Titanic.
Sandi Krawchenko Altner is a Jew by choice who enjoyed a long career in television and radio news in Canada. You may remember her as a reporter for Pulse News at Montreal’s CFCF TV. Sandi was born and raised in Winnipeg, and is a fifth descendent of the first group of Ukrainian immigrants who settled near Vita, Manitoba, in 1896. She grew up with a keen interest in her roots, and a deep love for history. Sandi now lives and writes in Florida. She and her husband, Bob Altner have two daughters and two spoiled dogs. Ravenscraig is her first novel.
Praise for Ravenscraig:
Ravenscraig has been shortlisted for the 2011 Manitoba Historical Society’s prestigious Margaret McWilliams Award in Popular History.
“Wonderful…Welcome to Downton Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs with a Winnipeg Twist.”
-Ron Robinson, Winnipeg Free Press
“Ravenscraig is superb. It is a book that almost seems to have been written specifically for me, involving Jewish immigrants who resemble what my great-grandparents were like, and reflecting the attitude and hope that I have in life.”
—Louis Kessler, past president, the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada
Today’s research gem is from Digs and Docs by John R. Roby. An anthropologist explains his interest in an obscure document connected to the Titanic.
I could quite happily spend an entire day traipsing from one blog to the next reading stories about Titanic and other topics, discovering writers and researchers who share my passion for historical research. Alas, with work assignments to complete, I rarely find large enough blocks of time to indulge in such delicious, and time consuming meanderings. Yet, when I do, I am almost always rewarded.
Truth be told, you have to find your way through so much junk and regurgitation before you hit the true gems. But the gems are there, and they must be shared.
This prompts to me start a new category on this blog, which I will call “Research Gems” to recognize thoughtful and interesting work. All of the reposted work will have RG: in the title so it can be easily found.
About Digs and Docs
I decided to launch Digs and Docs for a very simple reason: To cover topics that I want to read about. I follow a good number of blogs, including more than a few on archaeology and history. But none of them are focused on the many and fascinating ways that material culture, historical documents, culture, and the past and present, intersect. A fundamental premise of mine, one that is widely held in my field, is that the objects (material culture) and writings (documents, archives) of people in the past are not merely of the past, but in a very real sense, are part of the present. They influence the ways we think and act today, and are part of our understanding of who we are as contemporary people living as part of a contemporary society. Too often, though, we seem to forget this. We imagine that our cultural landscape is something new and unique to us, without precedent in human history. We fail to realize that our present is merely a point in the grand sweep of history, and the past has exerted a strong influence on the makeup of that present.
Upstairs Downstairs in a Brash Winnipeg
The Manitoba Free Press (as the Winnipeg Free Press was known in its early years) played a very large role in the development of the stories for Ravenscraig. Every archived page is available on line through subscription. It’s an amazing resource that has afforded me both inspiration and education in my research for the novel. Imagine my joy in seeing the Saturday edition with a big positive review of Ravenscraig, written by Ron Robinson, a Winnipeg broadcaster and book lover. He writes:
Welcome to Downton Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs with a Winnipeg twist.
Former Winnipeg journalist Sandi Krawchenko Altner has researched and written a wonderful Winnipeg-warts-and-all historical romance set mostly in the early 1900s. It’s a brash, two-faced Winnipeg, but still a recognizable one.
Thank you, Ron!
Click here to see the entire review in the Winnipeg Free Press on line. (Saturday, January 14, 2012).
By the way, I have started doing “Skype visits” to book clubs, which are great fun. If your group would like to arrange a Q&A session to talk about Ravenscraig and the stories behind the fiction, I would be delighted to join. Please write to me at Sandi.Altner@gmail.com.
Click on the image below to see the book trailer.
Heartland and Associates, a Manitoba publishing house, has purchased the Canadian rights to Ravenscraig by Sandi Krawchenko Altner.
The book will be launched in Winnipeg on November 29, 2011, at the McNally Robinson store at Grant Park.
A sweeping epic set at the turn of the 20th century, Ravenscraig reveals the secrets and lies that tie two families together. Rupert Willows has hidden away his past to manipulate his way to wealth and power. Zev Zigman, a devout Jew, mounts a desperate struggle to bring his family out of Russia and put down roots in Winnipeg’s North End.
Tragedies, triumphs, and the Titanic shape the lives of these two families as their futures entwine to illuminate a dark corner of Winnipeg’s past when it was the fastest growing city in the Dominion.
About the Author:
Sandi Krawchenko Altner enjoyed an award-winning career in television and radio news in Calgary, Winnipeg and Montreal, before she left to follow her passion for writing fiction. She is a fifth generation descendent of the first colony of Ukrainian immigrants to settle in Stuartburn, Manitoba in 1896. Sandi grew up with a keen interest in her roots and a deep love of history. A Jew by choice, Sandi celebrated conversion in 2005. She lives, writes and blogs in Florida where she is active in her synagogue. Sandi and her husband have two daughters and two happy dogs. Ravenscraig is her first novel.
Click on the image below to see the book trailer for Ravenscraig.
When the Canadian Pacific Railway opened the Royal Alexandra Hotel on July 19, 1906, it was one of the finest in Canada. It cost a million dollars to build and was designed with the sophisticated business traveler and lavish Winnipeg party host in mind. With 450 rooms, including many luxury suites, it was a dramatic testament to Winnipeg’s self-procaimed reputation as the fastest growing city in the Dominion. In a story about the opening, The Winnipeg Tribune called the impressive hotel a: “guarantee in brick and stone that the future growth of Winnipeg is assured.”
Another article, this one by The Canada Hotels Journal, in August, 1906, told its readers: “The new CPR hotel, the Royal Alexandra, which was opened last month in Winnipeg, gives to that city one of the finest hostelries in Canada and one that is surpassed by few on the continent.”
Indeed it was. Named for a queen, the hotel was immediately dubbed the Royal Alex and declared its place as the social centre of Winnipeg.
It would be another six years before the hotel’s prime competitor, the Hotel Fort Garry, would be built, giving the Royal Alex plenty of time to assert her grandeur and attract her followers.
The hotel was built at Higgins and Main, on the North-east corner. To allow for it’s construction next to the Canadian Pacific Railway station, a number of “Hebrew” businesses were reportedly displaced from their established locations along Main Street.
The Royal Alexandra offered exquisite menus and the finest services available for travelers and local residents in need of pampering. If advertising is to be believed, it even provided one of Winnipeg’s early locations for top level beauty treatments.
This advertisement for a beauty parlor that perhaps needed no name, appeared in the Manitoba Free Press, shortly after the hotel opened.
“I have at considerable expense laid out a first class parlor, fully equipped in every branch of hairdressing, hair-dyeing, wig-making, scalp treatment, facial steaming and manicuring departments, all of which will have my personal supervision.”
The ad was placed by William Saalfeld who explained his extensive training in Paris, Montreal, London and other cities, and added that he had bee a court hairdresser.
While the salon may have been reason alone to visit the Royal Alex, the hotel was most certainly seen first as a highly desirable event location.
Weddings, galas, and Royal visits were hosted in the sumptuous halls that included the greatly loved Café, lined with oak and suffused in East European opulence. Champagne, caviar, and a seemingly endless flow of moneyed guests maintained the hotel’s aura of richness.
But, it was a dream that started to fade all too quickly. As hopes for continued growth in Winnipeg started to wane, so too, did the glamour of the Royal Alexandra start to dim.
By the time the hotel was sixty years old she was a tattered old lady no one wanted to visit. Wrong location, too costly to keep warm, and too old to care about. The hotel was closed at the end of December in 1967.
The last event in the grand hotel marked the beginning of a new life for someone else. It was a wedding on December 30th, 1967. Mr. and Mrs. R. J. Linton were caught by a Winnipeg Tribune photographer as they left the hotel.
For the next four years the Royal Alex stood empty, but for the security guards who patrolled her halls and listened for ghosts from parties past. There were many ambitious plans put forward to save the building, to find another purpose for her many rooms, and to preserve her historical value. But alas, the plans all fell under the weight of crushing costs that could not be supported.
The terrible announcement was made on March 1, 1971. The building had to come down. There was nothing that could happen to stop it. A local wrecking company, owned by Alexander Billinkoff, was hired to bring down the decayed and decrepit Royal Alex. Because it was Winnipeg, there was still a lot to argue about despite the decision. The history fans were appeased with the promise of an auction and many Manitobans were able to cart away special treasures to hold dear and perhaps even pass down to their grandchildren. But not everyone took things to keep in private collections.
One special couple, Allan and Donni Stern had a bigger idea and joined forces with Alec Billinkoff to make it happen. They decided they wanted to save the one dining room that had been left untouched by renovations in the hotel. The Cafe, which had seen many names over the years, would be lovingly preserved and rebuilt in a new location.
Piece by piece the décor of the famous Café, then known as the Selkirk Dining Room, was carefully removed, coded and stored. The initial plans for rebuilding the room in Winnipeg did not work out and the Café sat packed away for over 25 years before it was rescued from storage and recreated in all of its splendour in the Canadian Museum of Rail Travel in Cranbrook, British Columbia in a millenium project almost one hundred years after the hotel had first been built.
So, if one more spin on the dance floor in that marvelous old room would make your heart sing, you might consider a trip to Cranbrook.
One more thing.
The best way to get there just might be by train.
To learn more about Winnipeg’s Royal Alexandra Hotel, please click on the following to go to the Manitoba Historical Society page for her article:
A Fallen Splendour: The Challener Murals of Winnipeg’s Royal Alexandra Hotel
by Susan Moffatt Rozniatowski
For more old photos, see the Montreal McCord Museum site. The photo at the top of my posting can be found here.
I would also encourage you to see Robert Galston’s blog about the Rise and Fall of the Royal Alexandra Hotel. http://pointdouglas.blogspot.com/2010/08/rise-and-fall-of-royal-alexandra-in.html
To learn more about the Canadian Museum of Rail click here.